❉ Nick Clement on the bonkers ’80s teen action movie starring Charlie Sheen and Sherilyn Fenn.
“A literal Frankenstein’s monster of a movie, consisting of spare and lifted parts from John Hughes to old school Westerns to cheesy car-films to vigilante justice programmers to Knight Rider-styled 80’s sci-fi – I don’t think there could be more of a kitchen-sink movie than this one.”
Make no mistake – this is a bad movie. This is a film about a high school stud who gets murdered, then starts travelling between dimensions, assumes the spirit of a souped-up sports car, which then starts extracting bloody and explosive revenge on the people who wronged him by driving them off the road.
This is a strange, fascinating, totally insane little oddity from my childhood, a movie that has definitely attained a certain cult status over the years, but it should only be viewed if you’re in the right, um, frame of mind.
Despite a very low budget and some amateur-hour moments with some of the supporting actors, The Wraith is not without its own sense of silly charm, and similar to something like the disasterpiece My Science Project, it represents a slightly transgressive piece of subversive teenager movie fun, which when viewed by a pre-teen, can feel like the best thing since sliced bread. Released in 1986, it made its appearance on VHS shortly thereafter, making me roughly seven or eight years old when first exposed to this bit of lunacy.
Seriously, I must’ve watched The Wraith 20 times as a tyke, as it was one of those movies where you felt “cool” while watching it; the previously mentioned My Science Project was another staple film from my VHS heyday that I had no right seeing when I did, but hey, them’s the breaks! But The Wraith is entirely its own, crazy thing.
A literal Frankenstein’s monster of a movie, consisting of spare parts lifted from John Hughes and old school Westerns to cheesy car-films to vigilante justice programmers to Knight Rider-styled 80’s sci-fi – I don’t think there could be more of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink movie than this one.
There are parts to this film that are wildly irresponsible, and the mayhem on display is pretty intensely realized for a film caught in that odd spot of PG/PG-13 territory. Nick Cassavettes sleazes it up as the chief baddie, a young Charlie Sheen is barely seen in human form but stars as the titular hero, and the then-absurdly hot Sherilyn Fenn was on hand as The Wraith’s love interest; she’d become the object of many youngster’s dreams for many, many moons upon seeing this amazing stupid piece of crap. Clint Howard is a riot, sporting an Eraserhead-esque hair-cut, while Randy Quaid smarmed it up, cutting a skeevy portrait of a slick and shady detective who is trying to figure out how and why a car is murdering people.
Seriously, this is one whacked out film, a production where camera technicians were killed in a stunt gone awry, budgets were slashed, and the release was nearly invisible (less than 250 screens). But, because of the power of the almighty VHS, this was one of those movies – like Rad, Solarbabies, My Science Project, The Invisible Kid, Gleaming the Cube, Just One of the Guys, and Teen Witch, just to name a few – that would find a constant rotation on many kids’ TV sets.
❉ ‘The Wraith’ (1986) Directed by Mike Marvin. With Charlie Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid. Run time: 89 minutes. Available on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube Films and Google Play.
❉ Nick Clement is a journalist for Variety Magazine and motion picture screenplay consultant, as well as a critic for websites We Are Cult and Back to the Movies. He wrote the introduction to the book Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, which was published by The Great Books Foundation, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.